Putting together a reading is always a matter of rethinking a range of formal strategies in my work in terms of the space in which I present it, and the time of presentation . For 21 Grand, I wanted to make a frame of the current section of The Grand Piano 8 I am writing, as it is my most recent work. It will go out to the printer by the end of the month, and then I will be on to the next and last sections, to appear by the end of 2009.

The focus of that section is "West"--oceanic feelings I associated with San Francisco as liminal site, and the interstellar space between sites (San Francisco and Detroit, and elsewhere) I also know and experience. The section connects the desiring space of open form and no boundaries with the empty space of no community, and interrogates the relation between them. I'm negotiating a poetics desire in two forms, in that sense.

To introduce my project, I read three short, occasional poems from the recent past. They are poetic anecdotes; one begins with the story of a forebear pouring several gallons of out-of-date human blood onto a compost heap, somewhere in the repressed suburbs, during some oppressive decade, in Oakland. After the reading, a friend suggested this was a trope for the question of representability throughout. It is a negative poetics.

In between the opening and closing sections of The Grand Piano I read sixty one-to-ten-line poetic overwrites of samples from William Carlos Williams's Paterson, book 1. I see a connection between Paterson as a site and Oakland, and between the Passaic Falls and the ocean. In adapting the samples of Paterson to my purposes, I was thinking of the relation between knowledge and information; democracy and the crisis of representation; parataxis and hypotaxis; the poetics of the "genius" and modernity (Henry Ford); basketball and sentences. In the overwrites, I tried to write "knowledge sentences" that would represent "a complex state of affairs"; in the course of the work, a centripedal tendency of the fragment interacts with the centrifugal dynamics of meaning.

I wanted to perform the Paterson overwrites in a voice of "not me." Somewhere in the background are the samples of Williams, like the roar of the falls. I wanted to speak of the beyond to what is beyond. There is a connection both to place and to oceanic feelings/interstellar space. At the bottom of it all is a question of representation, both canceled out and constructed. I see this intersection/canceling of forms as generative.

Barrett Watten
March 2009

audio here (thx andrew)



i guess i don't know how to write this statement; it seems like an opportunity to say what one's life is like and also what one is working on, a generous opportunity. a person like me might overdo it: speaking for oneself usually includes, like, getting over the anguish of speaking for oneself, i think. right now i'm translating baudelaire and putting together (designing and editing) a book that is actually two books by two friends. i'm making something called MERCURY and something called PURCHASE and the possibility that PURCHASE will end up inside MERCURY. the feeling of something converging, and trying to align with an energy like the sense for an end of a world. last year was very full and difficult. somebody i love died, i fell in love, and i wrote a play that took a year to write. as i write this, i think, 21 grand, it's so nice of you to ask. and i feel sorry for saying all the wrong things, which ultimately turn out to have been right, isn't it always that way with the errors one makes of one's own accord. as i write this, i need a place to live. it occurs to me that there is more space between objects and, thereby, more space, which is the same as the possibility of more space, between ideas-- in california. have you read the case of california by laurence rickels? i haven't. i'm totally listening to ein deutsches requiem. i enjoy to read what a person thinks and feels, i always find it self-indulgent in the encouraging way that's like a gesture toward deferring suicide: i want to know what grooming products a person uses, what she eats when she feels complicated, what she becomes when she's alone, like in the bathroom, or what it's like for her to wake up in the morning. like amy goodman or kathy kelly. what i love right now is the care and slowness in gentle commentaries that do not, will not intoxicate themselves upon the energy of their own proceeding: that go slowly. i bought gold hightops at the thrift store today: they don't really express my personality is the feeling i have about them; nevertheless something happens when i have them on (as i write this i have them on) that, though not wholly convincing, produces a mild sensation of erroneousness that i guess i find stimulating. i don't know what poetry is; i almost typed anymore, i don't know what poetry is anymore, that's an antique, or vintage, statement that used to carry real emotion around on my behalf when i employed it back in the day, but now i'm too far away to know. once and a while there's a twinge. see you soon.


audio here (thx andrew)